Jeff Varner You’ve been brought on as Versatile’s Shop Manager. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.
I will primarily be monitoring systems and processes as they relate to the daily activities of the shop. Production schedules, safety standards, resource needs, tool repairs, etc. My goal is to help facilitate a clear and efficient flow of communication as it relates to production. To support each of the talented Versatile craftsmen in their work.
You have a background in construction. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?
For a long time most of my construction experience came from working on restoring old homes. I was essentially self taught out of both a personal interest in learning how to create something and out of necessity: How can I get this old window to open and close properly? or What style of house is this and what kind of details would have been used when it was built? Most of the time if I didn’t know how to do something I’d have to figure it out on my own. By taking it apart to see how it was put together.
I love the fact that here at Versatile there is so much thought given to details like traditional materials and construction. Attention paid to maintaining accuracy and architectural integrity. The biggest difference is the huge knowledge base to draw from in the talented craftsmen I get to work with. There is so much collective experience in this shop and pride in workmanship so it’s really inspiring to be a part of it.
What inspires you about custom manufacture?
In so many cases, artistic details and architectural elements reflecting a particular era or style of a building are crucial to making a building look “right” in relation to its immediate surroundings. At the same time create greater harmony and utility within it. We’ve all walked into houses before and thought “Something here doesn’t look or feel right.” Even if we’re not sure what it is.
It’s often the execution of thoughtful improvements along with the introduction of “custom” pieces that make a building special and unique within any given style. That is the part that I’m attracted to. The artistic expression in the application of these custom elements, and the artistry and skill necessary to produce and integrate them.
Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?
My favorite projects were the houses I’ve helped bring back from the effects of age and misguided stylistic makeovers. They are like my kids so I can’t choose one over the other. The oldest house I owned was built in 1894 and had suffered decades of abuse. It was only a few blocks from where I grew up and for years I walked by it on the way to school. As I was working on it I did a lot of research of homes from that era. To figure out how to put it back together. In the process I learned a lot about Portland history.
It’s like time travel in a way to think about the day-to-day lives of the people who inhabited the very same house over 100 years before. Who came and went through the same front door and who walked up and down the same staircase. As I was working on it, I liked to think that they if they could see it today, that they would recognize it and hopefully approve.
What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?”
I don’t think I can narrow it down to 3 things. We really love to travel and see new places so I’d like to continue doing that as much as I possible. I think it would be fun to live abroad for a year or so at some point. I like living in Oregon though so it would be tough to ever leave permanently.